February 27, 2009
An environmental veteran and global-warming skeptic finds himself frequently disinvited to debate the likes of Elizabeth May
I am the most disinvited speaker in Canada.
My most recent disinvite involves a conference at Queen’s University’s Business School next week. Several months ago, I was invited to speak at its Commerce Engineering Environmental Conference. As with all my disinvites, I’m never entirely sure why I’m disinvited. But I have my hunches.
In the case of the Queen’s conference, the organizer, a student named Amy (not her real name), offered me a choice of speaking spots that I could fill. When I saw my options, I couldn’t believe my good luck – a spot in a debate on global warming was available, and the debater was … Elizabeth May, the head of the Green Party, as knowledgeable as they come on global warming and a fabulous debater. For close to a year, I had wanted to engage in a debate on global warming with someone of the calibre of Elizabeth May, or, with just about anyone. “What luck!” I thought, as I promptly e-mailed Amy to grab the opportunity to debate Elizabeth May.Two days later, Amy broke the bad news to me: “Elizabeth May has just changed her plans. She will not be able to participate, but will be delivering an address at the dinner following the debate.”
But not all was lost. A debate was still on, only I now learned it would be a three-way debate involving me, Bruce Pardy, a law professor at Queen’s and, Amy hoped, Stephen Hazell, executive director of the Sierra Club. Still thrilled to be able to participate in a global warming debate – I know them both to be highly capable – I made my travel arrangements.
And then almost two weeks of silence, during which Amy failed to communicate. Was I being disinvited again? Finally, Amy replied: “Unfortunately we can no longer offer you a place at the debate. I realise this is extremely unprofessional, and I apologise for that. If you would like to speak on Saturday then we can offer you a spot, but Friday is no longer an option.”
My very first disinvite ever came just about a year ago. I had been invited to be the keynote speaker on day two of a two-day energy conference in April, on the subject of (yawn) electricity restructuring, the subject of an early book I wrote. day one dealt with global warming, the subject of my new book, The Deniers, which by coincidence would be coming out the very week of the conference. “Would you like me to speak on day one instead,” I asked, explaining the timeliness of my book’s release. The organizer instantly agreed. It was in her interest as well as mine to have me speak on the strength of a book that would have just hit the stores.
Three weeks later, she called back: “What exactly is your book about?” she asked. I explained that I had profiled dozens of prominent scientists who disagreed with the view that global warming represented a harm for humanity. Long pause. “Could we go back to you talking about electricity restructuring?” she asked.
My disinvites span the spectrum – speeches, debates, media appearances – and I can’t always fault the disinviter, particularly since I’m never given a clear explanation for the disinvitation. On one occasion, a prominent organization – a household name in Canada – failed to find someone suitable who would agree to debate me. On another, a prestigious if less-well known organization was willing to fund a debate, as long as it wasn’t identified as its sponsor. On a third, a quasi-governmental European organization backed out of having me as a speaker, to the evident remorse of the organizer. In many others, I am not disinvited, because I am dropped before a formal invitation is even extended. I will be asked, “Are you available on such and such a date?” I will reply “Yes.” I will then hear back that my presence won’t be required, if I hear back at all.
I don’t take my disinvites personally. For one thing, I know that the problem isn’t with me or Energy Probe, my organization- they are the source of the invitation to start with. For another, it is hard to arrange global warming debates – in the few that I am aware of, the sceptics have won convincingly, leading most in the doomsayer camp to boycott any debates in the future .
But I do weep for Amy, the student organizing next week’s conference at Queen’s School of Business. What must she think of the integrity of the education she’s getting? Even more, I weep for the students who will be attending the conference. Amy, at least, knows that the debate over global warming that the conference is staging is a sham.